More than 1,000 AI and robotic experts, including some high-profile figures like famed physicist Stephen Hawking, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and co-founder of Apple Steve Wozniak, are speaking against the use of autonomous weapons.
The robotics, science and tech experts signed an open letter that was published by the Future of Life Institute, which laid out their concerns regarding the new technology. While robots may be the way of the future, the authors of the letter are calling for the ban of autonomous weapons, because bringing artificial intelligence to warfare could jeopordize more human lives.
Autonomous technology is already being integrated into our everyday lives. There are unmanned aircraft drones that allow consumers to film everything from weddings to forest fires, and autonomous vehicles that are currently being tested on the road.
The letter says that deploying autonomous weapon systems to engage targets without human intervention could be possible within a few short years. Since we aren't that far off from the technology, Hawking, Musk, Wozniak and the others are concerned that this could spur a global AI arms race.
"Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group," the letter reads. "We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity."
The letter points out that autonomous weapons – the third revolution in warfare – will be easy to mass-produce as they will be cheap to make: they require no expensive or raw materials like nuclear weapons. Because the weapons would be easy to come by, they could easily get into the wrong hands — like those of terrorists and other leaders looking to wipe out groups of people.
The authors of the letter do support the development of AI, but would rather see the technology used for societal benefits. In terms of warfare, efforts in advancing this technology could be focused on making humans safer when on the battlefield instead of giving them new tools of destruction.
Not only could autonomous weapons threaten our lives, they could also spark an outcry against AI technology overall, which could then prevent advancements in other areas.
While some may think Terminator-style combat is still a ways in the future, we've already witnessed the progress of technological warfare. In 2012, 76 countries had some form of drones — 16 of which had drones that were armed. The U.S., U.K., China, Russia and 50 other states have plans to further develop robotic killing machines.
Elon Musk donated $10 million toward a global research program back in January to ensure that the development of AI will continue to benefit humanity, after stating that the technology could be even more dangerous than nuclear weapons.
While the famed experts seek to prevent Skynet, firearms have already gotten into robotic hands. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and local police in Connecticut launched investigations after a YouTube video showing a drone firing a gun in the woods went viral. The drone was reportedly developed by an 18-year-old student and his professor for a school project.
The open letter urging the ban of autonomous weapons would be officially announced at the IJCAI 2015 conference on July 28.